Gawler East Primary School in South Australia has been recognised with the Connections UnitingCare Anti-Poverty Schools award for raising awareness about displaced villagers in the Philippines.
This is the first time in the 11-year history of the Anti-Poverty Awards that a primary school has won the award. The annual awards highlight the creative ways young people and schools engage with communities affected by extreme disadvantage.
The project was initiated by Gawler East Primary School teachers Anita Marling-Bauer and Tracey Gregory. Ms Marling-Bauer’s husband, Peter Bauer, was visiting the Philippines when he came across a fishing village called Laiya. The villagers were forced to move out so the land could be used to build a resort. The displaced families had no choice but to live in temporary shelters in extreme poverty.
Mr Bauer visited the school to share what he had seen with children from grades two to four. Ms Marling-Bauer said her husband’s talk ignited the students’ strong sense of social justice.
“The students were so passionate because they desperately wanted to help them,” Ms Marling-Bauer observed.
The students brainstormed the issues faced by people in the village and came up with different solutions to these problems. Their ideas were only limited by their imagination and some of the students were very creative in their suggestions, such as calling Dominos to deliver pizza to the villagers.
“They had so many amazing ideas of what they could do. As they investigated it, they realised some were possible to do and some weren’t,” Ms Marling-Bauer said.
These discussions evolved into a Project Based Learning unit, where students collaborated and analysed the costs and effectiveness of different approaches. This required students to utilise their mathematical, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
In the end, the students decided raising money and contacting local politicians were the best ways to help the villagers. With the support of the school community, the students raised a total of $1,075.
“One of the things that has been really exciting for us is the passion our students had and how they, at the very end of all this, felt as if they’ve got a voice and that they can really make a difference,” Ms Marling-Bauer said.
“Now, they really see themselves as 21st century students and global citizens.
“We’re really passionate about giving student skills in being compassionate, in being grateful for the things that they have, but realising that they really do have that voice and that they can actually make a change.”
Ms Gregory said the most satisfying part of the project was seeing it grow from what was originally a two-week unit of work.
“The kids took it on board really quickly. It was really good to see that anger and their desire to want to change things for people who are less fortunate than they are,” she said.
Ms Gregory said the students, who were mostly between the ages seven and nine, displayed maturity beyond their years.
“Because of the age of our kids, it’s about understanding that, no matter how young you are, you can still make a difference to the life of somebody else,” she said.
“It’s easy to sit back and say ‘I can’t do anything about that’. It’s really tricky to say ‘it’s not okay and I need to change, I need to help.’
“Hopefully they will take that message with them for the rest of their lives.”
Ms Gregory hopes similar programs can be adopted by other parts of the school next year.
“Our plan is to use the money that we have won for the 2015 award to look at other projects we can use to engage kids in, but from the whole school perspective rather than just a particular age group,” Ms Gregory said.
“We want to extend those ideas out to our school community and get more kids and people on board about hearing the message about poverty and people who need help.”